Student-written, student-directed, student-performed. Brave New Plays is a production based in SRU’s department of theatre featuring numerous works created and produced by students studying theatre as well as those outside the department.
Early in the spring, students who have written five-to-ten-minute plays can submit their pieces to the theatre department, and around nine or ten are chosen to be included in the Brave New Plays festival at the end of each academic year. This year, there were nine plays featured, including works titled ‘Mixing Paint’ and ‘Fireball Express,’ among others.
Directing ‘Mixing Paint’ was sophomore theatre acting major Cassie Biltz, who described the play as “a real heartbreaker.” This year’s festival was Cassie’s second time working on Brave New Plays, but her first in the director’s chair.
“It helped already coming from an acting background to kind of guide my actors through the process that I’m already familiar with,” Biltz said. “This experience was really eye-opening because I had never done anything from the perspective of the director before. It really broadened my horizons and put into perspective what it is like to make a show happen.”
Also experiencing the director’s perspective for the first time this spring was senior theatre arts management major Dalton Smith. He described the play he’s directing, ‘Fireball Express,’ as a “weird little love story” about a couple who embodies the idea that opposites attract. This was Smith’s second time working on Brave New Plays, as well.
‘Fireball Express’ was the last play before the intermission of the show, so Smith wanted it to be a more fun piece to lighten the feel for the audience before settling back into the darker, more serious content of other plays during the evening. Smith said he was worried about directing, because he’s only ever acted before, and he was afraid everything would go wrong. Luckily, this experience brought to light his natural talent for directing, and his love for it, too.
“I was terrified, I didn’t think I would be a good director,” Smith said. “But it’s actually really great. I found that I actually have a talent for it, and I really enjoy it. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better experience.”
This year’s production was the first time in a long time that Brave New Plays was put on as a mainstage production, meaning it took place in the Multi-Purpose Room (MPR) in the University Union and it had a longer production period, with shows spread out over the course of about a week. Last year, the show was put on in Sheehy Theater, which is in the basement of the Maltby Building and seats around 100 audience members. Sheehy Theater is very small, and both Biltz and Smith said the switch to the larger space was daunting, but an interesting challenge at the same time.
“It was very daunting going from such a friendly, small environment that Sheehy is to a mainstage,” Biltz said. “It was a little nerve-wracking at times, but I’ve grown really proud of what we’ve put together.”
Senior theatre acting major Jared Lewis performed in two plays during this year’s festival: ‘Mixing Paint’ and ‘What You Share in the Dark is the Truth (and Needles).’ This was Lewis’ third Brave New Plays festival, and he said the move to the MPR was less jarring from the acting perspective, but still a significant change and improvement for the festival.
“It is really nice to see that whole overarching thing where each year [Brave New Plays] has changed and gotten better, but it still feels like Brave New,” Lewis said of the change. “It’s still a fun process of these new plays getting to come to life with these people working on them as hard as they can.”
Lewis has an interesting relationship with the festival, as his first production in the theatre department three years ago; now it’s his final production with the department as a graduating senior.
“I just want to entertain people, whether it be through laughter, through sadness,” Lewis said. “I want to impact somebody. I want to create an experience and entertain people.”
The switch from Sheehy Theater to the MPR also affected the set design because now the set designers were able to work with more than the minimalist black box that is Sheehy. However, the costume designers stuck with tradition, mostly dressing the cast in blacks and neutrals with a specific piece of clothing meant to represent or enhance each character. Junior theatre design tech major and student costume designer Anne Mayle said this costuming technique is called signature design, and Brave New Plays has been using this technique for a long time.
Mayle has seen and worked on an endless amount of theatre productions here at SRU, beginning her time backstage with David Skeele’s 2015 production of the rock musical Spring Awakening. Before she was even a theatre major, Mayle knew she wanted to work on Spring Awakening, so Skeele introduced her to the costume designer in the department and the rest is history.
“It was kind of an accident, a happy accident,” Mayle said.
Watching the whole production come together and come to life is one of Mayle’s favorite things about the rehearsal and performance processes, and she said this show has been a really fun process. She also said she likes the signature design technique because it gives the costume designers a chance to educate the cast on things like costuming.
“I hope they gain an understanding of the backbone of costume design,” Mayle said. “Each choice that we make is specific to the character and specific to what needs to be happening in the show. Each piece means something.”
Brave New Plays is held by the department of theatre at the end of every spring semester, in a way celebrating a successful year of performances from the department.